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How to Manage the Stress of Moving

Moving is often a major life stressor, but it doesn't have to be.

Zachary Kadolph / Unsplash
Source: Zachary Kadolph / Unsplash

“I’d rather make new friends than help you move.”

Moving is one of the top stressors in life, preceded only by divorce and death of a loved one.1 The anxiety of moving is largely triggered because you are adapting to a new environment. If you insist on ruining a friend’s weekend in lieu of hiring professional movers, at least box everything beforehand and offer a hand truck. No one wants to slip a disc for pizza and Coors Light. And consider these proven, often overlooked tactics to make your next move less anxiety inducing.

Do everything you can to start the moving process as early as possible. If it’s financially feasible, try to overlap your old and new places by at least a week, so you can move at a more relaxed pace. Assemble your moving troops in advance, especially if hiring professionals, and expressly if it’s in the spring or summer, since this is when the majority of big moves occur.

Engage Your Four Limbs and Five Senses

Sadly, the anxiety of moving does not end when the moving truck pulls away. It may increase after you have settled into your new job or home, especially if you moved to a region that salts roads instead of margaritas. Engage the five senses to signal to your brain that you are indeed home:

  • Play your favorite music as you start unpacking.
  • Bake premade cookie dough to make the house smell cozy and delicious.
  • Clean it with your preferred cleaning supplies, and use your favorite soap in the shower until it smells a bit more like home for you.
  • Set up the lighting and place some pictures on the walls right away.

Arrange the most important spaces in your new home first. Get your bedroom sleep-ready immediately because you’ll need rest. If you cook, the kitchen should be next. A home-cooked meal can help you to settle in.

Kids Are Better Shakers Than Movers

When it comes to moving, children often lack the ability to put problems into perspective. Let your child know it’s okay to be anxious or miss their friends and previous school. Encourage them to participate in decisions about activities, meals, and bedroom paint colors. And give them time to adjust while listening to and showing empathy for their sadness and frustrations.

If you have kids, pack their favorite stuff and other critical items and bring them in your car, unless you want to spend hours tearing open boxes looking for Cubby the Curious Bear. Get their toys unpacked and their bedroom set up or rue the day and night.

Suffering Is Adaptive, Which Is Why Pain Centers Use Coldplay as Hold Music

It’s imperative not to abandon healthy habits you may have had before you moved. This includes engaging in physical and relaxation exercises by implementing small changes. Verbalize your own needs during this time. You may find comfort by turning to friends and family back home for support more than you had anticipated. Ask a relative or close friend to visit you. Maybe hand them a paint roller and point to a wall: Home improvement is both a love language and a housewarming gift.

When your friends take off, keep in mind that falling asleep in a strange house is like doing battle with your biology. This struggle, called “first night effect,” is an evolutionary adaptation to keep you semi-alert and safe in an unfamiliar setting.2 Only half of your brain enters deep sleep when you try to snooze in a new place. The other half is a night sentry keeping watch to protect you, while remaining responsive and vigilant to threats like rising interest rates and HOA dues. This protective physiological mechanism seems to mostly occur on the first night in a strange place. As soon as the second night, both sides enter deep sleep. Researchers have determined that when sleeping in an unfamiliar place, the left hemisphere of the brain stays alert while the right hemisphere rests. Insomnia has many side effects beyond keeping spiders out of your mouth.

To Have Memories Tomorrow, Start Living Today

Memories and mail are what made your last residence feel like home. Start with the friends who can help you unpack in exchange for wine and take-out eaten off of boxes. Move on to having people over for book club, movie or game nights, or something regular. Once people see the new digs as your home, you’ll start seeing it that way too. What’s more, a few good memories will contribute to a feeling of emotional attachment to the place. Reward their loyalty with your Wi-Fi password and a bubble-wrap stomp.


Cohen, S., Murphy, M. L. M., & Prather, A. A. (2019). Ten Surprising Facts About Stressful Life Events and Disease Risk. Annual review of psychology, 70, 577–597.

Herbst, E., Metzler, T. J., Lenoci, M., McCaslin, S. E., Inslicht, S., Marmar, C. R., & Neylan, T. C. (2010). Adaptation effects to sleep studies in participants with and without chronic posttraumatic stress disorder. Psychophysiology, 47(6), 1127–1133.

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